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The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet

The Locavore's Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000-mile Diet

by Pierre Desrochers, Hiroko Shimizu

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A new generation of food activists has come to believe that “sustainable farming” and “eating local” are the way to solve a host of perceived problems with our modern food supply system. By combining healthy eating and a high standard of environmental stewardship, these locavores think, we can also deliver important economic benefits and


A new generation of food activists has come to believe that “sustainable farming” and “eating local” are the way to solve a host of perceived problems with our modern food supply system. By combining healthy eating and a high standard of environmental stewardship, these locavores think, we can also deliver important economic benefits and increase food security within local economies.

But after a thorough review of the evidence, economic geographer Pierre Desrochers and policy analyst Hiroko Shimizu have concluded these claims are mistaken. In The Locavore’s Dilemma, they explain the history, science, and economics of food supply to reveal what locavores miss or misunderstand:  the real environmental impacts of agricultural production; the drudgery of subsistence farming; and the essential role large-scale, industrial producers play in making food more available, varied, affordable, and nutritionally rich than ever before in history. At best, they show, locavorism is a well-meaning marketing fad among the world’s most privileged consumers.  At worst, it constitutes a dangerous distraction from solving serious global food issues.   

Deliberately provocative, but based on scrupulous research and incontrovertible scientific evidence, The Locavore’s Dilemma proves that:

•    Our modern food-supply chain is a superior alternative that has evolved through constant competition and ever-more-rigorous efficiency.

•    A world food chain characterized by free trade and the absence of agricultural subsidies would deliver lower prices and more variety in a manner that is both economically and environmentally more sustainable.

•    There is no need to feel guilty for not joining the locavores on their crusade. Eating globally, not only locally, is the way to save the planet.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A Canadian academic couple attempts a soup-to-nuts debunking of the local slow food movement (“locavorism”) in this daring, bare-knuckled, frequently sarcastic defense of the status quo in Western industrial agribusiness. From the point of view of the well-off, well-fed North American who does not have to toil much of the day for his subsistence, what’s not to praise in the West’s ability to provide the world with cheap, fast, uniform, reliable, bug-resistant, vitamin-enhanced food? After all, we’ve grown literally in stature and size thanks to the Western diet and largely eliminated famine (on our side of the world, anyway); the free flow of food across world borders keeps peace and allows most of us (who can pay) to consume all kinds of unseasonable foods year-round, requiring only a fraction of the fuel needed to keep the local energy-guzzling greenhouses running, they write. Desrochers, geography professor at the University of Toronto, and Shimizu, a public policy scholar trained in Japan, cite impressive experts, from Aristotle to the Hudson Institute’s Dennis Avery, to address the “myths” in what they consider the romantic, risible, irrational movement to patronize one’s local organic farmer: indeed, they argue, urbanization has brought prosperity; globalization wields peace and security; “food miles” is a joke; packaged food is safer than handling it at home; and the notion of peak oil (someday running out of fuel with which to haul all that food across the world) is an “untenable proposition,” since we’ll just go back to coal. A provocative take, to be sure, and one that will invite the ire of the 99%. (June)
From the Publisher

from the Foreword by Blake Hurst, president, Missouri Farm Bureau
“In large parts of the world, local trumps science, and people suffer as a result….  Desrochers and Shimizu take the idea of local food to the back of the barn and beat the holy livin' tar out of it. In a more rational world, their defense of what is so clearly true would not be needed. However, our world is not rational, and most of what passes for thinking about food is as full of air as an elegant French pastry.”

Ronald Bailey, Reason.com
“Desrochers and Shimizu demonstrate that the debate over food miles is a distraction from the real issues that confront global food production.”

“Desrochers … is the scholar's scholar. In an age where few read all important material on all sides of their subject, this professor stands out.”

Sustainability: Science, Practice, & Policy, sspp.proquest.com
“Desrochers … delivers a serious warning to the fetishization of local agriculture as the magic bullet that will solve our food problems.”

Bookloons“There is plenty of food for thought in this unconventional, provocative look at how we should go about feeding the masses. The authors…make some very interesting points and raise concerns that must be addressed.” NATURE Magazine

Kirkus Reviews
Desrochers (Geography/Univ. of Toronto) and Shimizu formulate counterarguments to claims made by proponents of locavorism. The authors state that the movement does not nurture social capital because economic well-being is correlated to more trade and specialized jobs. It also does not offer a free economic lunch because the more people spend on one local good, the less money they have to spend on another local product. In response to claims about the environmental benefits of locavorism, they claim that food transportation has negligible environmental damage. They also believe that larger food corporations are better equipped to handle food safety than smaller, local operations. Moreover, the issue of food shortage has only been effectively addressed by food imported from other countries. While some of the authors' points have merit, they ignore some widely known facts about food. For example, Desrochers and Shimizu note that we are bigger and live longer compared to our ancestors due to advancements in food. While that is true, the authors ignore the fact that the average American's health has declined in the past decade, partly due to increases in food-related diseases such as diabetes. The authors also praise the variety of food available in U.S. supermarkets, assuming that variety exists everywhere, not just in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. (For a solid discussion of the lack of variety in lower-class areas, see Maggie Anderson and Ted Gregory's Our Black Year.) In the chapter about food safety, Desrochers and Shimizu list bacterial outbreaks that occurred in local fruit and vegetable farms but do not mention the recent problems in large meat and poultry companies. In 2011, there were three outbreaks and recalls that originated from Dole, Tyson Farms and Jennie-O factories. The authors' willingness to ignore certain facts and events that do not align with their argument casts doubt on the book's validity as a source of information. Not recommended for readers looking to become more informed about this issue; suitable for those who already align with the authors' viewpoint.

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Meet the Author

Pierre Desrochers is an associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto who writes frequently on economic development, globalization, energy, and transportation issues. He was a research fellow at the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University. Hiroko Shimizu holds a master’s of international public policy from Osaka University. Desrochers and Shimizu have both been research fellows of the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Montana, and the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

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